Periodically, I witness hearings or meetings of creditors for cases that are filed Pro Se, meaning they were filed by an individual without an attorney. In the majority of these cases, it is clear that the case was filed incorrectly and that it will probably not be successful. The reason for this is simple: filing a bankruptcy case is not easy. In fact, there are many attorneys who do not practice bankruptcy due to it being so complicated.
Failure of Pro Se Filings
In 2011, the United States Bankruptcy Court for the Central District of California released a study on several aspects of bankruptcy including the success of pro se filings. The study showed that the success rate of Chapter 7 cases in which the debtor was represented by an attorney was around 95% while the success rate of pro se debtors was a mere 61%. The outlook for pro se debtors in Chapter 13 cases was even more bleak. Only about 1% of Chapter 13 cases filed by pro se debtors in the study successfully had their plans confirmed.
Problems of Filing Without an Attorney
The first problem a pro se filer will face is which chapter is right for them. While a Chapter 7 case may be the ideal course at first glance, the debtor may need to file under Chapter 13 in order to save assets or because they are not eligible under the means test. If the debtor does select the correct chapter to file, there are required forms that can be specific to each case or jurisdiction. The failure to correctly file the forms could result in the dismissal of the case. There are also credit counseling and financial management courses that must be properly completed in order to file the case and receive a discharge. If these are not properly filed, then the case could be dismissed or closed without a discharge.
Even if the case is properly filed, there could be legal issues that arise post-petition. While these can be handled, sometimes easily, by an attorney, a pro se debtor would find it difficult and maybe impossible to handle those situations. For example, in Chapter 13 cases the court must approve the personal reorganization plan submitted by the debtor. Once the proposed plan is submitted, it is common for a creditor or the trustee to object to the plan. This usually results in a hearing in which legal research would be required, especially by a pro se debtor or an attorney unfamiliar with the procedure.
Meet With Our Attorneys Free of Charge
If you are considering filing a pro se bankruptcy case, I would recommend at least meeting with an attorney to see how beneficial it would be to have representation. A bankruptcy attorney cannot help you with your pro se filing, but he or she can represent you in the case. Seeking debt relief can be extremely stressful, but an attorney can help relieve that stress. If you need debt relief, please contact our office nearest you for a free consultation with one of our experienced attorneys.
- Five Myths About Bankruptcy
- Should You File Chapter 13 or Chapter 7 Bankruptcy?
- Overview of Bankruptcy